Riot police arrested two senior members of south Sudan’s main party and their supporters who turned out to demonstrate outside Sudan’s parliament today in defiance of an official ban, a witness and officials said.
Yasir Arman, a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) scuffled with police outside the National Assembly and was driven away to a police station, a Reuters witness said.
Officials said Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s Secretary General, had also been arrested.
Around 25 SPLM and opposition supporters gathered outside the parliament in the early hours of Monday and were surrounded by police armed with batons and shields.
Police officers beat demonstrators and onlookers with batons as Arman was driven away chanting “freedom”.
Khartoum was unusually quiet today after state authorities announced a last-minute public holiday which they said was to encourage people to take part in the last day of registration ahead of elections.
The SPLM and opposition parties had called the rally outside parliament to demand democratic reforms in a rare challenge to the president. Sudanese authorities announced yesterday that the rally was banned.
Yesterday, an official in the opposition Umma party said the ban showed north Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) was not serious about letting dissenting voices take part in elections, scheduled for April 2010.
The oil-producing country is due to hold its first multi-party polls in 24 years under the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war between Sudan’s north and south and created an SPLM-NCP coalition government.
Relations between the former foes have remained tense and both have accused each other of failing to implement the deal, which also guarantees the south a referendum on independence in January 2011.
Two million people were killed and 4 million fled their homes between 1983 and 2005 as Sudan’s north and south battled over differences of ideology, ethnicity and religion. North Sudan is mostly Muslim while southerners are largely Christian and followers of traditional beliefs.